Growing old together, meeting the in-laws, flying ships that express romance, a chance connection on a beach between two strangers and much more: Frameland’s favorite cinematic moments of 2017 deal with all kinds of human connections, expressed in a multitude of ways.
Of the three(!) features Hong Sangsoo released this year, the least heralded thus far has been Claire’s Camera, shot over a few days at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. All three films are somewhat inspired by the extra-marital relationship between Hong and his lead actress, Kim Minhee. On the Beach at Night Alone finds her on wintery shores, recovering from a scandalous affair, while in the stark black and white of The Day After she finds herself caught between a pompous man, his wife, and his mistress.
Claire’s Camera inhabits the same self-excoriating space, as Kim is inexplicably fired from her job as a sales rep (she doesn’t know that she’s unwittingly become tangled in a love triangle: her boss is sleeping with a director, and he’s told her that he also slept with Kim). She gets nothing but abuse from her Korean elders: her boss won’t be straight with her and the director publicly harangues her for wearing denim shorts. But then, one day, on the beach, she meets Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a French school-teacher with a fondness for taking pictures. They two hit it off, exchanging compliments in charmingly broken English, an instantaneous connection of openness and warmth. There’s a mystery about Claire, I’ve a theory that she may be a time traveller in this most Rivettean film, but what is indisputable is that with her camera she transforms the people around her. The dead souls of the older Koreans are exposed, while Kim’s innate brightness is unleashed.
I experienced my favorite cinematic moment of 2017 at the KLIK Amsterdam Animation Filmfestival, where I was really touched by The Only Reason We’re Alive, a short animation film made by Sarah Van den Boom in 2016. This short starts with a man telling what would happen if he falls in love at the age of 85. He would love his better half no matter what and enjoy every single moment they share.
The animation is beautiful and predominantly grey/blue coloured. It has a dreamy en soft look and the transitions are very fluent and gentle. Things like furniture and landscapes are drawn with thin, sharp white lines, which alternates nicely with the soft animated characters.
The film is accompanied by a spoken word poem, written and recited by IN-Q. The poet describes how the love between these two lovers resonates in everything they do. About how they talk and laugh about their younger days, how they take aerobics classes and wear focal glasses, how they dance and make new memories and how he cares for her when she can’t care for herself. Until the inevitable end comes.
The film ends with a real tearjerker. “Love, it’s the only reason we’re alive. And none of us should have to wait until we’re 85.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, however, The Only Reason We’re Alive proves that sometimes a combination of beautiful animation and poetic words is unbeatable.
Dealing with your in-laws is notoriously tricky. Even in today’s super-connected society. Some films use this fray as fodder for comedy. But in 2017’s masterful thriller Get Out, the tension is a source of fear.
In one scene, Chris, the boyfriend, returns from a sneaky midnight smoke to find his girlfriend’s mother, a hypnotist, sitting alone. She invites him to join her and asks him whether he’d like to know what the whole hypnosis thing is about. The actress goes from speaking with a convincing show of careful control, to coaxing, to commanding, and then suddenly it is too late, both for Chris – and for us. We are pulled into her game of manipulation with no way out.
The scene has been the subject of numerous YouTube videos- some made by professional hypnotists concerned for their careers. In another video, one of the actors in the film extols his director, saying, “Hitchcock said that it was impossible to film a credible hypnosis scene. Jordan Peele has proved that it can be done.”
There is something magic in the way cinema can take us from the feasible to the implausible in a split second. This scene invokes exactly that magic – by the way the dialogues in the scene are eked out, along with Chris’ obvious visceral changes, mean that are immobilised between incredulous and amazed along with the character. As she coaxes us along, the mother suddenly utters the performative words. Sink into the floor, and as Chris sinks, we feel like we’re sinking with him.
Picking just one moment from S.S. Rajamouli’s incredible Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not an easy task. The South-Indian epic sequel to 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning is designed to impress again and again, with set piece after set piece that put Hollywood’s attempts at epic cinema to shame, be they enormous battle scenes or spectacular song sequences. But little else in cinemas in 2017 gave me such pure joy as when Baahubali’s swan-ship ascended into the clouds, kicking off the fantastical song sequence ‘Hamse Naava’.
After Baahubali, the crown prince of Mashismati has just won a big battle to save the kingdom of Kuntala and has won over the heart of princess Devasena (and her hand in marriage), he takes her back to his realm on his ship. The scene starts out with him making himself a human bridge to make sure she doesn’t fall into the water when she enters the ship, just as the song starts in the background. The swan-like ship alone is enough to impress while the two lovers share meaningful glances
When the princess challenges the prince with some magic-induced high waves, he responds with a swing of the ship’s wheel: the ship turns into a flying swan, with its masts and sails functioning as wings, and takes off into the sky. The clouds turn into galloping horses while loving glances turn into exuberant dances. Why have characters express love and emotions in dialogue when you can show it like this? Pure cinema magic.
Just before he vanishes in a cloud of toxic mythology and method actor misogyny, Dustin Hoffman did us the favor of giving one last good performance. In The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), he’s the selfish, obstinate asshole we’ve always guessed him to be in real life, but funneled productively into a story about younger generations learning from the pointless battles of the ones above. Look no further than a sublime, seconds long scene of Hoffman and Adam Sandler as father and son playing a friendly game of billiards. The scene is not only the biggest laugh in a film lousy with ’em, it’s a perfect autocritique.
It looks at first as though Hoffman is just aping Sandler’s well-worn screen persona, but their writer/director Noah Baumbach has actually tried to position Sandler as heir apparent to the kind of ‘great artists’ who came before him. He’s almost literally grandfathering in motivation for Sandler’s behavior. Committing to a childish, screaming persona in three dozen unwatchable movies suddenly seems to make a certain amount of sense. If Hoffman could get away with humiliating his co-stars and behaving like a colossal prick on set and a prince in interviews, then why shouldn’t Sandler throw all of that messy contradictory performance into the same channel and just sob and howl at the screen for a few decades as a corrective to the dichotomy of performer/performance? Beyond that, watching Hoffman lose his mind with rage over something simple just happens to be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. And now… he can go away forever.
Manchester by the Sea has such a heartbreaking story and performances to go along with that, both executed perfectly. As the story progresses, the premise becomes more apparent, which makes the film start to weigh heavier and heavier on an emotional level. Over halfway into the film, the protagonists played by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams incidentally run into each other. Both are carrying so much emotional damage and history together, which through their expressions can be immediately felt. Knowing their shared history as well as themselves by this point, for both viewer and them this chance encounter becomes an inevitable emotional breaking point. So much that had remained unspoken for years comes out, and yet so much that makes this scene so strong remains under the surface, still unspoken. By the end I wanted them to reconnect so badly, yet understood why it could never happen anymore. A scene that moved me deeply and showcased great acting, especially non-verbal. Very powerful.